My problems with the film are filmic. The cut we have now leaves us with a movie that could more aptly be titled "The Stonewall Jackson Story." I kept waiting for other sides of the story to be examined, for other characters to be fleshed-out better, but the story kept gravitating back to the world of General Jackson. Being a Civil War neophyte, I expected a rounder, more holistic view of the early Civil War. Instead, there were long-winded monologues/prayers by Jackson and a backstory of his various experiences....pretty dull stuff cinematically, and nothing I felt did anything to aid the greater good of the film. I do not question Jackson's significance to the war, but the time Maxwell devotes to his story only diminishes from the overall story. Had this been a biography on Jackson, sadly, it still would have been pretty dull.
That said, the film did enjoy fairly good acting, except for a deplorable and shameless Ted Turner showing his face as a Confederate Colonel and destroying any continuity of the scene. It makes the viewer go "Great, there's Ted Turner. Isn't he the guy that ruined all those classic black-and-white movies by colorizing them?" Too bad Robert Duvall was kept to such a minimum, it makes me wonder if General Lee was that subdued in reality. And why was Jeff Daniels even in this film? I kept waiting for his character to get more screen time...it never came. Even if his character is brought into light in Gettysburg, his appearance here is almost trivial.
I can only imaging that directing this type of story would be a nightmare. Although there is an established narrative, how you cram all of it into its running time is a battle in itself---maybe all the editing down resulted in so much emphasis on Lang's character. I've seen countless "theatrical" cuts of films that were stinkers compared to their longer director's cut...maybe that comes out in this instance as well (remember how bad Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America was in its shorter run time?). I have no problem with six-hour programs, if the material is that good.
I would have like to have seen more "horrors" of war, as well. This film seemed a bit tame for the contemporary war film in its presentation of battlefield gore. Whether you like the film or not, Saving Private Ryan did show us that battle is not all blood squibs...men die in horrific fashion and seeing it definitely has a dramatic impact. I wish Maxwell had extended this a bit more here. I've seen photographs of Civil War dead, and nothing is more haunting..isn't that worth accentuating?
I did enjoy this film, although I expected more from it. Definitely watchable, and more importantly for me, a call to action to investigate deeper this critical chapter in our history.